Many a Liverpool fan woke up this morning with a great big smile spread across their face. Why? Well, very rarely have Liverpool made the journey to Old Trafford as favourites, which was the case on Sunday. However, as well all know, being favourites on paper in this league, especially in a season like this is, sometimes, meaningless. Saying that, to go away to your biggest rivals Man United, beat them 3-0 and come away knowing you could’ve actually scored more, isn’t a bad days work. As much as everyone in the Liverpool personnel have tried to deny their title winning credentials over the last few months, there’s no denying now that they are right in the hunt for the big one.
It was a great day for everyone involved with Liverpool Football Club. Not only was it a sweet victory against their bitter rivals, but it laid down a marker to teams like Chelsea and Man City and that they would be pushed all the way to the end.
“We all believe but our priority was top four at the start of the season. We are on track for that and anything else is a bonus.
It’s always good when you see other teams around us getting beat. We saw the Chelsea result (losing at Aston Villa on Saturday) but we just concentrate on ourselves.” Jon Flanagan is post match interview.
The impressive Flanagan showed his maturity on and off the pitch and explained how, although it was a great result, the team would not get carried away.
The objective at the start of the season was a Champions League place, and it still is, but with Spurs now nine points behind, having played a game more, you can blame Liverpool for looking at the teams above them rather than below.
To go from a 7th place finish last season to now thinking about lifting the title is beyond anything any fan could’ve dreamed of. You’d suspect Rodgers, Gerrard and co are pinching themselves to be in a situation which would not have been on the radar for at least another year or so.
The great thing about Rodgers and his men is the fact that no one is getting carried away with themselves. Liverpool have now won 5 on the bounce and accumulated 26 out of 30 points so far in 2014. With that sort of form, most teams would talk up their chances of the league. Instead, Rodgers and Gerrard have swerved any questions regarding their title chances and concentrated on taking each game as it comes.
Man United were simply outplayed on Sunday from start to finish in match that was as one sided as it gets between two of the big sides. Sure the 3-0 score line has been bettered with Liverpool’s 5-1 win against Arsenal and 5-0 victory against Spurs, but it was the manner in which Liverpool took apart their opponents – and, even then, didn’t really get out of 2nd gear. The grit and determination to win the ball in the middle of the park was probably the main difference between the two sides, with Liverpool being able to play their game in the midfield whilst stopping United playing theirs. Astonishingly, the Reds were awarded three penalties in the game, first two being stone wall and the third being quite contentious in the circumstances, with Vidic receiving a second yellow. Suarez finished off the game after being first to react to a wayward shot to finish with aplomb, giving the team all three points and the double over the North West rivals.
As much as the Liverpool players have been excellent of late, most of the credit should go to Brendan Rodgers for the way his has tactically outplayed opponents in recent weeks with his formations. The team started the season with a 4-3-3 formation, winning their first three games. Rodgers then switched to three at back, with the wing backs pushed forward. Sterling and Sturridge’s return to the squad in the New Year helped switch the formation back to a 4-3-3 formation with Suarez in tandem. In recent weeks, however, Rodgers has worked with the unfamiliar 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation, which has reaped six goals from away games at Southampton and United, with two clean sheets, something that has been hard to come by this season.
“I think you’ve got to give credit to the manager. He keeps switching it, tinkering with the formation and the tactics. We played a diamond today and totally bossed it in the middle of the park.”
(Steven Gerrard on Brendan Rodgers’s tactical changes.)
The diamond formation enabled the midfield to press higher up the pitch and give the opposition very little time on the ball. Rodgers is unlikely to play this formation in home games but shows that his knowledge of different teams allows him to tinker with his own squad to bring the best out of the players for that particular game. Sterling, playing at the top of the midfield diamond, was a very good example of this. Having switched the 19-year old from his normal wide position, Sterling flourished in the middle of the field and showed not only his versatility, but his maturity to hold his own in front of players such as Carrick and Fellaini, which is no easy task for someone of his stature.
As mentioned earlier, in two seemingly tough away fixtures, Liverpool managed two clean sheets. This from a team that has been under scrutiny for the most of the season for their comical defending at times. These two games showed that the hard work being done off the field is paying off and the defenders are going back to basics. This is not to say that the defenders are just concentrating on defending, with Flanagan and Johnson bombing forward at every opportunity as well as putting in a stellar display at the back.
Flanagan in particular had a great game, being able to first shut out the duo of Rafael and Mata, before then giving Januzaj no room to work with. Discipline is key in the art of defending and Liverpool have lacked that at times with silly individual errors. Eradicate these mistakes and you have a good defence, shown by their last two outings.
Liverpool’s pressing game was a great feature to their dominant display on Sunday, with literally every player closing down their opponent in rapid fashion. Liverpool have displayed performances with high pressing which has gained rewards, such as the home win against Arsenal. However, this pressing game lasted from start to finish, which was one of the reasons United only had one shot on target.
Henderson and Allen epitomised the teams’ determination to win back the ball, two players who have had their fair share of criticism, with Rodgers again demonstrating his ability to bring out the best in his players. Henderson pressed the ball a total of 37 times, forcing United back/sideways 70% of the time and winning the ball 27%. Allen pressed the ball 31 times in the match, pushing United back/sideways on 64.5% of occasions, also winning the ball 19% of the time and putting the ball out of play on 13% of the attempts (via Anfield Index).
Allen covered the most ground out of any player, travelling 11.87km with Henderson covering 11.25km (via Sky Sports). The significance of these numbers, was the impact it had on the United players, they didn’t know what to do. Van Persie and Rooney were dropping deeper and deeper and were running out of ideas, showing how crucial the pressing game was.
Suarez and Sturridge were again relentless in their pursuit of goals, giving the United defence a torrid time. Another difference between the two sides was pace. Van Persie, Rooney and Mata were making it easy for the Liverpool defenders by playing in front of them. None of these three players were willing to make the runs in behind, let alone actually pulling it off.
The Liverpool forward players, however, had pace to burn, with Sturridge having two opportunities early on just by making runs in behind. Suarez’s run behind Rafael led to the first goal, Joe Allen out of all players ran in behind Phil Jones to win the second penalty, and Suarez again was alert enough, having made the initial run, to capitalise for the third goal.
On the up and up!
“I repeat, we could win the next nine games and still not win it but certainly our focus now will be to get ready.
“We’ve got a tough game against Cardiff next week away and it’s five games on the spin now. Terrific results against tough opponents and we’ve just got to keep it going. The biggest difference is that we’re believing all the time.” Brendan Rodgers’s in his post match interview.
Rodgers has not changed his stance in recent weeks, even when everyone else has. Taking each game as it comes seems to be his motto but even he must think that there is a chance to do something special this season. Saying that, Rodgers has discussed belief many a time recently, with the players now believing that they can produce results against any team and see where that takes them.
When asked if Liverpool can win the title, Rodgers smirked and replied “No Chance”. We’ll see about that.
Quotes taken from Sky Sports